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Veterans recognized during Military Day at Navy game

Ninety-one-year-old World War Two veteran and Shepherd resident Lauren Lironis raises his hands as to the crowd cheers to honor him along with other war veterans during Friday night’s football game between Central Michigan and Navy at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant. “I don’t have words to explain it,” Lirones said. “It’s out of of this world.” Lirones joined the army in 1943 and was a combat engineer in the 246 infantry. (Andrew Kuhn/Staff Photographer)

Football isn’t the only thing that got the crowd on their feet at Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Friday night.

Thousands of fans unleashed the loudest of cheers, not for the football game, but for the many veterans who were recognized during Friday’s game against the Navy Midshipmen.

Sgt. Randy Richmond, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam from December 1970 to 1971, was among those honored.

“I felt very honored to be able to get recognized (during the football game),” Richmond said. “Seeing everyone stand up and cheer for all of us almost brought tears to my eyes; it was such a proud moment.”

During the 2009 football season, players began a tradition of carrying the U.S. flag, the 126th Cavalry flag and the 125th Infantry flag onto the field at the beginning of each home game. Players are selected to carry the flags each game based on their performance on the field and in the classroom.

But Friday, rather than CMU players leading the team out of the tunnel with the flags, they were members of the 126th Cavalry and 125th Infantry units.

Spc. Nickolas Easterling, from Hillsdale, carried the U.S. flag, while Pfc. Larry Westcomb, from Three Rivers, carried the 126th Cavalry flag and Pfc. Wesley Tahash, of Bay City, carried the 125th Infantry flag.

During timeouts in the first quarter, the veterans were invited onto the field to receive recognition and mention of the accolades they achieved while in service.

Drafted in December of 1970 and deployed to Vietnam, Richmond said he loves his country and gladly did whatever was asked of him.

“I never really asked any questions,” Richmond said. “I just showed up and did everything my officers asked of me the best I could.”

Richmond received a Bronze Star, Air Medal with “V” designation for Valor, Vietnam Service Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge for his service during the Vietnam War.

After his tour in Vietnam, Richmond came to Mount Pleasant and graduated from Central Michigan University in 1978. Richmond sported his maroon CMU t-shirt underneath his 11th Armored Calvary Regiment Blackhorse coat.

Lauren Lironis, an Army veteran of World War II, also received recognition.

Lironis was deployed to Omaha Beach and participated in the initial invasion of Europe. Serving as a member of  the 246th Combat Engineers, he was involved in every major battle from Omaha Beach to Berlin.

Lironis was accompanied on the sidelines by his wife, Lizzy. The two planned to celebrate their anniversary on Saturday after 34 years of marriage.

He said he felt a little overwhelmed by the crowd and their response to him being recognized.

“I was so happy, you would almost think I was in my right mind,” he said.

Lizzy said watching her husband, Lauren, stand on the field and seeing the crowd honor him was a very emotional experience.

“I was so proud seeing him on that field, and when the crowd started cheering it brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

During his service in World War II, Lironis received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, six Battle Stars and three Purple Hearts.

Lauren has several connections to CMU, with two nephews in the Chippewa Marching Band, as well as having four of his brothers graduate from CMU in the 1940s. Lizzy graduated from CMU in 1981.

Lauren, a Mount Pleasant native, has been an active member in the community for his entire life. His father once owned a shoe store located on Broadway Street, he said.

During the break between the first and second quarter, Derek Gagne was recognized for his service and sacrifice during the war in Iraq as a continuation of Military Appreciation Night.

Gagne, a member of the Wounded Warrior Project and a Michigan Army National Guard veteran, was deployed from 2006 to 2007 in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a member of the 46th Military Police Battalion.

While on patrol as a gunner in January 2007, Gagne’s Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device. The driver of the Humvee was killed in action, while Gagne and his truck commander suffered multiple severe injuries, which included the loss of Gagne’s right leg from the knee down.

“It was a great honor to be invited onto the field to receive recognition for serving our country,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how loud the crowd was, and I could tell it was very heartfelt and (sincere).”

Gagne enjoyed watching the game from the field with Staff Sgt. Joseph Garvie, CMU National Guard Liaison, who was deployed with Gagne.

Other veterans who were recognized include WWII Navy veteran Winfred Bachman, a Korean War Army veteran Jack McConnell; Wendell Phenix, a Marine veteran who also served in Korea; Command Sgt. Major Terry Richardson, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam; Tim Prescott, a Navy veteran who served in Grenada; 1st Sgt. Pete Kirley, Michigan Army National Guard veteran who served in the Gulf War; Staff Sgt. Joseph Garvie, a Michigan Army National Guard veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom; Sgt. Andrew Rasmussen, of the Michigan Army National Guard serving in Operation New Dawn; and Lt. Mike Major, a Navy veteran who served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

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